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Decoding IP ratings

It's as easy as 1, 2, 3... 4, 5, 6... and sometimes 7 and 8.
By

Published onMay 12, 2023

Whether you’re exercising or get caught in a surprise rainstorm, broken earbuds are a big inconvenience. Ideally, your earbuds won’t weather the elements. However, you can’t always control these things. In that case, it’s best to invest in earbuds, headphones, or speakers that can endure a light splash or fumble into the dirt. IP ratings are an easy way to identify the durability of your next device. These simple numbers will give you some peace of mind when using your devices in extreme conditions.

Editor’s note: this article was updated on May 12, 2023, to include another case study and answer reader FAQs.

What is an IP rating?

An Ingress Protection (IP) rating denotes a device’s resistance to dust and water, and “ingress” is just the act of going in or entering. The “X” is a placeholder for the degree of dust or water resistance in a given IP rating. Not all devices receive a rating that covers both variables, hence why many headphones and earbuds receive an IPX4 rating. In this case, the X means that the headset didn’t receive a dust-resistant rating, so don’t use it at the beach or when rock climbing. The “4” following the “X” is the liquid ingress protection rating.

Water-resistantWaterproofCan withstand
IPX0
Water-resistant

Waterproof

Can withstand
Not water-resistant
IPX1
Water-resistant

Waterproof

Can withstand
Dripping water (1 mm/min)
Limit: vertical drips only
IPX2
Water-resistant

Waterproof

Can withstand
Dripping water (3 mm/min)
Limit: Device max tilt of 15° from drips
IPX3
Water-resistant

Waterproof

Can withstand
Sprays
Limit: Device max tilt of 60° from sprays
IPX4
Water-resistant

Waterproof

Can withstand
Splashes, omnidirectional
IPX5
Water-resistant

Waterproof

Can withstand
Water jets (12.5 L/min)
Example: Squirt guns
IPX6
Water-resistant

Waterproof

Can withstand
Strong water jets (100 L/min)
Example: Powerful water guns
IPX7
Water-resistant

Waterproof

Can withstand
Complete submersion
Limit: 1 m. for 30 min
IPX8
Water-resistant

Waterproof

Can withstand
Complete submersion
Limit: 3 m. for 30 min

As we said, IP ratings break down into two categories: dust and water resistance. The former ranges from zero to six, while the latter goes up to 8. As you might expect, the lower the number, the less it can combat the respective hazards.

Dust-resistantDustproofCan withstand...
IP0X
Dust-resistant

Dustproof

Can withstand...
Not dust-resistant
IP1X
Dust-resistant

Dustproof

Can withstand...
A solid object > 50 mm
IP2X
Dust-resistant

Dustproof

Can withstand...
A solid object > 12.5 mm
IP3X
Dust-resistant

Dustproof

Can withstand...
A solid object > 2.5 mm
IP4X
Dust-resistant

Dustproof

Can withstand...
A solid object > 1 mm
I5X
Dust-resistant

Dustproof

Can withstand...
Dust-protected, small solid objects won't interfere with device operation
IP6X
Dust-resistant

Dustproof

Can withstand...
Any amount of dust, completely dust-tight

Case Study 2: The Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro

The Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro are sitting in and covered in water droplets on a tropical themed outdoor blanket with a water bottle in the background.
Jasper Lastoria / SoundGuys
The buds are IPX7 rated for waterproofing, which should cover most wet activities or environments you’d take the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro.

Starting with one of the more extreme examples, let’s look at the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro. These buds have an IPX7 rating, meaning they can endure up to 30 minutes in the water. Well, as long as they don’t sink farther than one meter deep. If the buds were to sink beyond one meter, the water pressure might exceed what the internal gaskets can resist. If this were to happen, the water could seep into the electronics, damaging them.

Of course, with an IPX7 rating, you can exercise with these buds to your heart’s content. No amount of sweat will damage the earbuds’ innards. Just let the earbuds dry off before placing them back in their case.

Case Study 2: The Bose Sport Earbuds

The Bose Sport Earbuds true wireless workout earbuds sit outside of the closed charging case, all objects are covered in sprinkles of water.
Lily Katz / SoundGuys
The Bose Sport Earbuds boasts an IPX4 water-resistance rating.

The Bose Sport Earbuds merit an IPX4 certification. Bose designed the earphones to resist splashes from any direction. The Bose Sport Earbuds, and any water-resistant headset with an IPX4 rating or higher, can handle even the sweatiest of us and be no worse for the wear. As a matter of fact, these buds will likely survive a clumsy spill from a water bottle too. That said, don’t go around thinking these are invincible. Full immersion will render them useless.

Case Study 3: The Jabra Elite Active 75t

A picture of the Jabra Elite Active 75t true wireless workout earbuds (navy) submerged in a Pyrex bowl of water.
You can submerge the Elite Active 75t true wireless workout earbuds for up to 30 minutes.

Jabra engineered the Jabra Elite Active 75t and prioritized durability. These earphones received one of the highest IP ratings at IP57, making them dust and water-resistant. If you’re a gymnast in training, beach runner, or rock climber, we recommend the Elite Active 75t. A dust-resistance rating of IP5X indicates traces of dust won’t affect performance. Regarding waterproofing, an IPX7 rating allows for complete immersion at one meter for up to 30 minutes. Combining these into one pair of buds makes for a very durable product.

Why you should care about IP ratings

A person wears the Shokz OpenRun Pro bone conduction headphones while sitting on a sidewalk.
Lily Katz / SoundGuys
Runners and city slickers will thoroughly enjoy the peace of mind that comes with wearing the OpenRun Pro headphones.

You may not think your lifestyle warrants any kind of device-proofing, but accidents happen. Even the hydrophobic need to drink, leaving potential spills to chance. Nowadays, extra protection doesn’t necessitate extra cost. While the examples above are of top-tier earbuds, plenty of more affordable earbuds are water-resistant.

Poor spending habits aside, headphones with IP ratings will last longer than those without an IP certification. With this rating, you can rest easy knowing that a drop of water, spring deluge, or an unexpected poolside shove won’t short-circuit the internals. And as a backup, many warranties cover water-resistance failures. Worst-case scenario, you jump through some bureaucratic hoops to justify a repair. Still, not too bad.

Frequently asked questions about the durability of earbuds and headphones

The term “waterproof” is for products that can withstand submersion (IPX7 or IPX8 rating). The term “water-resistant” describes earbuds that can resist splashes and sprays of water to some degree (IPX6 or lower). Be aware that no earbuds are truly waterproof. Too much pressure or prolonged exposure to water will damage earbuds even if they have an IPX8 rating. Further, water-resistant ratings actually degrade over time and with regular use. Extreme heat and cold, and even dropping your earbuds can compromise their water resistance.

Jaybird Vista 2 earwings lined up on table.
The Jaybird Vista 2 comes with a bunch of ear wings, but they’re proprietary so you need to go to Jaybird for replacements.

If you’re looking for good running headphones, you’ll definitely want something with at least an IPX4 rating. But choosing between workout headphones and earbuds is up to personal preference. Most runners tend to choose earbuds because they’re durable and more ergonomic than headphones. Headphones have their place for exercise, and we have a whole list of the best workout headphones, but running requires a lot of jostling which can displace headphones in a way that doesn’t happen with earbuds.

If you want to go the less traditional route and fancy yourself an outdoor runner, we recommend bone conduction headphones, specifically the Shokz OpenRun or AfterShokz Aeropex. These are essentially the same headset, but the former is rebranded, and you may have an easier time finding the latter at a discount.

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